Supporting Someone With Mental Health Challenges

Are you close to someone who has a mental health condition? Do you want to help them without making their life more challenging? Are you unsure of the difference between helping and enabling? Do you want to make a positive difference in their life but don’t know how?

Supporting someone with a mental health condition is often a challenging and exhausting experience that doesn’t always have an end date. It’s easy to find yourself feeling burnt out while cycling through different powerful emotions. This is true at all stages of the illness, from identifying and accepting that it exists, to getting professional support and developing management techniques.

Helping someone manage a condition isn’t always easy or rewarding and knowing if you’re doing a good job or not can be incredibly confusing. However, there are some ways to make this easier and more successful.

Although it might not always seem like it, being there for someone with a mental health condition helps them feel less alone and often improves their conditions.

Learning that someone you love has a mental health condition is often confusing and challenging.

A diagnosis will cause strong reactions and changes

When you learn that someone close to you has a mental illness, you’ll most likely experience varying but powerful emotions. One of the more common emotions is relief. People are glad to finally have a name for what their loved one is going through, and hope that the diagnosis will enable them to recover. Fear of what the diagnosis will mean is also common. But there is no right or wrong way to feel. Everyone’s emotions are their own so don’t feel guilty, or ashamed, or anything else about your feelings.

After receiving a diagnosis and moving into treatment, feeling angry, frustrated, guilty, confused, insecure and ashamed are common reactions. Some people also feel grief for the loss of the life their loved one used to live, what could have been, and the sacrifices they’ll have to make.

Your life will also change. Helping someone manage a condition is often very difficult and has been described as ‘relentless’. Your experience will depend on the severity of the condition, the effectiveness of treatment, and your level of patience and skill.

Regardless of your connection to the person with the illness, their diagnosis, or your emotions, expect your relationship to change.

  • Romantic relationships can become one-sided as your partner has to focus on their illness. There will be more tension with less communication and intimacy.
  • Parents can blame themselves for their child’s condition, become overprotective, and try to get better for them. This makes recovering more difficult for the child as no one, not even a parent, can get better for someone else.
  • Children can be embarrassed by an ill parent or annoyed at having more responsibilities at home. Younger children also have to adjust to having a parent who can’t be as present as they used to be.
  • Siblings can worry about developing the same illness, resent their sibling for requiring so much attention, or be afraid of provoking outbursts in certain conditions.
  • Friends can worry about overstepping their boundaries but also want to maintain the relationship while encouraging improvement.

Change you didn’t ask for isn’t easy to deal with. And having to adjust to a new way of living is challenging and can harm mental wellbeing. Everyone who is affected by a mental health condition, even if they aren’t responsible for providing support, may need help maintaining their own mental health.

Learn about the condition’s symptoms and treatment options

If you’re close to someone who has recently been diagnosed with a mental illness, you can begin understanding how to help them by researching the condition. This will help you anticipate and recognise their symptoms.

Some conditions cause people to have no energy so they appear lazy, or they say terrible things so they seem cruel. But these are symptoms of the illness, not the person choosing to act this way. If you can anticipate their behaviour, you’re less likely to be upset by it because you know it’s the illness, not them.

You should also research what types of treatment are the most successful, and learn the bumps to expect along the way. While learning to manage or recover from an illness, there will always be setbacks. But if you anticipate them, you’ll be able to encourage your friend or relative to overcome them more quickly than if they were unexpected. For example, anxiety management techniques can become ineffective over time. This is normal, even if it’s very discouraging. Learning to manage a condition isn’t going to be a series of victories, but knowing what setbacks to expect can make it less frustrating.

If one type treatment doesn’t seem to be working, you can look into different methods. There are many approaches to mental health, and not everyone will respond well to the most popular techniques. This shouldn’t be seen as a failure by anyone. Experimentation can be necessary when figuring out the best way to manage an illness.

Your relative or friend may also have a therapist or counsellor who isn’t a good fit. Mental health professionals have different approaches and personalities, so it’s important they see someone they’re compatible with. Having a good connection is important since they have to be honest with them about your feelings and the progress they’ve made. They must trust the person they’re seeing, communicate with confidence, and know they’ve been understood. The techniques must also resonate with your friend or relative – some people need tough love and a bit of pressure to face challenges, while others will shrink into themselves when faced with this approach.

Someone with a mental health condition may not want to, or not be able to go through the effort of finding a new therapist or counsellor. This can cause them to stop professional treatment, which will make their condition worse. If you’re there to encourage them not to give up on themselves and try again with someone else, you can help them continue working on their condition.

Encourage positivity and a healthy lifestyle

Just being there for someone makes a huge difference in their ability to get control over their condition. When people have a strong support system of friends and family, they’re twice as likely to successfully manage their condition than those without.

When you’re together, not everything has to be about mental health. Mental illnesses are exhausting and people trying to manage them benefit from distractions. You can ask what they would like to do for fun or suggest an activity you know they would enjoy. It can be as simple as going out for a coffee or watching Netflix together.

To make their lives better, you can help them live a healthy lifestyle. This could involve:

  • Develop a routine – routines make life easier for anyone
  • Talking to others and being social
  • Helping them budget so they don’t have financial problems
  • Recommend they eat a balanced diet, or if they aren’t able to prepare their own meals, buy or prepare healthy meals for them
  • Encourage exercise and getting enough sleep

If you live together, you can establish house rules, like doing the dishes or getting up at a certain time. You can also decide things they need to work towards doing themselves, like being able to get their own groceries or take their medication without you reminding them.

Encourage hope and positivity. Convincing someone with depression or anxiety that there is positivity in their lives can be difficult. But as they work on recovering, they’ll have more and more accomplishments. If you point these out, even when they’re small, you’ll help them see that they’re slowly improving.

Motivate them to find something to live for. Mental health conditions can cause people to feel useless and lose perspective of what really matters to them. A number of people think of their children, parents, partner, or other close relationships as reasons to get better so they can go back to enjoying life together. But the motivation doesn’t need to be family – it can be anything. If someone was a passionate hiker or fisher before their illness, you can encourage them to get better so they can get back to the hobby that they used to love.

If you’re worried about enabling their illness by taking on too many of their responsibilities or never pushing them to try new things, you can talk to their counsellor or therapist. They can suggest ways you could challenge them to step out of their comfort zone without pushing them too far. Knowing the difference between encouraging someone to try to accomplish something that will make them feel more normal and pushing them to do something they’re not capable of is often tricky. But encouraging someone to keep taking on challenges they have the ability to handle is important to helping them learn to manage their condition.

Almost any type of support you can offer someone struggling with a mental illness is beneficial. Don’t underestimate the value of just being with someone at a time when they’re feeling alone. Even if you don’t know exactly how to help someone, don’t let that stop you from offering to do what you can.

Any amount of support you can offer someone struggling with their mental health can be a huge help for them.

Take care of your own mental health

If you aren’t mentally healthy, you won’t be able to help someone else manage their mental health.

Supporting someone through what can be the most difficult period of their live takes its toll and can cause you to forget to take care of yourself as well. But if you’re burning yourself out, then you won’t be able to help others or be a good example for them.

Give yourself the time to do the things you love and that give you energy. This is known as self-care and it’s vital to living a balanced life with good mental health. If you don’t give yourself time to relax and recover, you’ll quickly become burnt out and exhausted. Don’t feel guilty about taking time away from a loved one to do something just for yourself. You can’t give all of your time to another person, no matter the situation.

Develop your own support system. You’re doing something very difficult and you too need people that will help you adjust and manage. Some of us benefit from joining support groups for people in the same situation. Others prefer talking to friends or family members about what they’re going through and relaxing together.

You can also protect your mental wellbeing by setting boundaries. These are things you won’t do or allow to be done to you. For example, not spending the night unless it’s an emergency, or refusing to be called names.

Don’t be afraid to tell someone how they’re making you feel. Even if the illness is to blame, part of managing a condition is learning how to control it, which includes not mistreating people. By telling someone that they’re hurting your feelings with their behaviour, you’re making them more aware of how they affect others. They can realise that this is behaviour they need to make additional effort to avoid.

Don’t just point out positives for the sake of your friend or relative – you need to notice them too. You’re going through the illness together so you both need to focus on the wins to stay motivated.

There’s no right or wrong way to take care of your mental health, but its vital to being a happy and fulfilled person, regardless of your circumstances.

Remember to look for positivity and signs of growth with helping someone with their mental health.

Supporting someone isn’t easy, but it makes a real difference

Supporting someone with a mental health condition is very difficult, so give yourself permission to think and feel whatever comes up. Remember that you need to take care of yourself as well if you want to be able to keep on being supportive.

Even when it doesn’t seem like it, just being there for someone and doing what you can makes a big difference in their recovery or management of their condition.

If you’re supporting someone with a mental health condition and want to know what you can do to help, or if you’re struggling to maintain your own mental health, please feel welcome to get in touch with me. I’m a professional counsellor who has helped people adapt to the role of supporting someone, as well as helped people learn to manage their conditions.

I’m happy to answer any questions you may have.

Further Reading

Read more posts about mental health

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